What Does .com Stand for?

This sequence of four characters probably appears at the top of your computer screen several times a day. But do you know what it actually means?

The English language makes use of all sorts of abbreviations that themselves are very common, but whose actual meanings are widely unknown. Some date back to ancient times, like the use of “lb” as the abbreviation for “pound.” Others are far, far more recent, including technological abbreviations like “SIM card” and “USB.” But perhaps the most common of these tech abbreviations—considering today’s nearly constant use of sites like Google and Amazon—is “.com.” What are these three letters short for?

What does .com stand for?

Some domain names are a little more self-explanatory, especially when you see the sites they encompass. “.edu,” the domain name for college websites, is “education,” and you’ll see “.gov” on governmental websites. But what does “.com” stand for? Fairly good guesses include things like “computer” and “communication,” but neither is the actual meaning of the abbreviation. The “I” in “iPhone” doesn’t stand for what you think it does, either.

“.com” is short for “commercial.” A site doesn’t necessarily have to have a commercial purpose to use it (though most commercial sites do use this domain). Instead, “.com” is a bit of a catch-all, since this domain name is available to anyone. This differs from more restrictive domain names like “.edu” and “.mil.”

Another potential meaning?

This isn’t a certainty, but some tech experts claim that, though it means “commercial” now, it may actually have originally stood for something else. Some speculate that it originally may have stood for “company.” Why? In the early days of the Internet, the 1980s and ’90s, it “was not chartered to interconnect businesses,” explains Jack Haverty, who was a domain developer at MIT in the 1990s. Back then, “the .com’s weren’t thought of as ‘businesses’ in the sense of places that consumers go to buy things…They were companies doing government contract work.” So “company” may have been the more logical explanation back when the Internet began.

Despite these potential origins, though, the Internet continued to evolve and expand, and it quickly became clear that the Internet would indeed be a major platform for commerce. “Commercial” is now the undisputed meaning of the abbreviation.

Laptop keyboard closeup. top viewEgoreichenkov Evgenii/Shutterstock

What do .net and .org stand for?

What about the other most common domain names? These have much simpler explanations. “.net” is short for “network” and began as a domain name for networking companies, like service providers. Despite “.com”‘s “commercial” meaning, some businesses today use the “.net” domain name. “.org” means “organization,” and, like “.com,” there are actually no restrictions to who can register a “.org” site. Despite its prevalence as a domain name for nonprofits, it’s available to anyone and began as an option for people whose sites had no governmental, educational, or commercial associations.

Which came first?

Though “.com” is overwhelmingly the most popular of these domain names, it actually wasn’t the first. “.net” was first, though admittedly not by much—these “original three” domain names all saw their first iterations in 1985. Nordu.net, for the Nordic Infrastructure for Research & Education, debuted in January 1985. The first-ever registered .com site, Symbolics.com, came about in March of that year, and Mitre.org followed in July. Now that you know the origins of these common domain names, educate yourself about the technology myths it’s time to stop believing.

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.